11 October

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Mette Rasmussen/Tashi Dorji/Tyler Damon — To The Animal Kingdom (2017, Trost)

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Hot off the press from Austrian label, Trost Records, To The Animal Kingdom is a blistering release from a fantastic trio of Mette Rassmussen, Tashi Dorji, and Tyler Damon. Recorded live in Toronto during the trio’s brief Canadian tour in the summer of 2016, the opening bars of the title track prod, poke, and playfully tease the listener before exploding into a joyful cacophony that straddles a meandering and rapturous line between disgruntled no wave and John Coltrane’s final works with Rashied Ali. “To Life” features Rasmussen’s serrated, almost Dolphy-esque playing, which invokes hardboiled film noir chase scenes and/or the turtlenecked basement hipsters of yesteryear, spitting, salivating, and flippantly flicking their cigarettes with disdain, all the while losing their shit behind the impenetrable façade of cool. Concurrently, Damon and Dorji’s equally fervid sonic quills shred the air ragged, making for a melange of something that’s not quite jazz, not quite punk, and not quite noise rock, yet would fit square in the middle of a Venn diagram of the three. The closer, “To The Heavens and Earths” is a slowly crescendoing,  jerky, free jazz number. At times reminiscent of a less bombastic Last Exit, the piece builds to it’s lurching apex, only for the bottom to drop out. Just like a bird whose sprightly song has ceased, the ensemble briefly take stock of all that surrounds, before fluttering off into the vastness of the world.

21 July

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Catriel Nievas and Sergio Merce — Pampa (2017, Mappa)

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Argentine duo Sergio Merce and Catriel Nievas come together to record a tenuous, but captivating set of sonic explorations on their debut Pampa, released on Slovakia’s Mappa label. Forging a partnership after sharing a stage in their native Buenos Aires, Merce handles electronics and plays a microtonal saxophone (formed from an alto sax with the keys removed), while Capece performs on guitar. Both musicians claim to have an interest in harmonic overtones and sonic layers; as such, this release has plenty of breathing room, which affords the listener ample listening space to fully absorb and ruminate upon what is being performed. Merce’s saxophone melds seamlessly with the electronics, in doing so, creates minimalist soundscapes reminiscent of both early electronic works of Else Marie Pade or Karl Heinz Stockhausen and contemporary electronic artists Aphex Twin and Autechre. Though impossible to tell without seeing the duo live, it sounds as if Nievas remains primarily on the margins. Surprisingly, the guitar work is reminiscent of both later Fugazi and Tortoise, making the guitarist’s contributions memorable, especially within the context. Equally notable are Nievas’ quickness to duck out – a trait which is highly refreshing given the guitar’s demand to “stick out” for a better part of the last century. In all, this would make a great release for those who are just starting to explore sound art and the fringes of music, but is equally suitable for those who are deeply committed to marginal explorations. Also of note, is Mappa’s excellent packaging. Cardboard, letter-pressed sleeve. Hand numbered, + photograph insert. A great sleeve to accompany a solid release.

8 July

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Magda Mayas and Christine Abdelnour — Myriad (2016, Unsounds)

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Pianist Magda Mayas and saxophonist Christine Abdelnour are two of Europe’s most exciting improvisers. Accordingly, this live performance from 2011, released on Andy Moor’s Unsounds,  the duo explore a host of textures, volumes, and motifs, resulting in two stellar tracks. Opening with the autumnal “Hyrbid,” Mayas and Abdelnour immerse the listener in a space that is either spatially or mentally remote. One can easily envision this as the auditory phenomena encountered when sitting on a desolate bench in the late afternoon. The piece is tenuous, yet emotive. Abdelnour’s saxophone remains almost painfully restrained. Mayas knocks the piano strings and focuses on every bit of the instrument but the ivories, making for a highly fascinating listen. At around the 11 minute mark, a foggy shroud descends. Mayas slowly introduces some “traditional” playing, while Abdelnour seemingly covers the bell of the sax and begins working through some bits that sounds like the grinding of coffee beans. The final two minutes crescendo into a frightening, horror show-esque conclusion, which dissolves almost as quickly as it appears. The second track, “Cyanide” feels much more mysterious. Abdelnour provides a rhythmic anchor, while Mayas contributes to the atmosphere of the piece, which thematically likens back to the introduction of “Hybrid.” Taken together, the pieces form a strange and slightly surreal sonic daydream. A great work, by two fantastic musicians of international repute.

18 June

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Mats Gustafsson and Craig Taborn – Ljubljana (2017, Clean Feed Records)

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This live meeting between Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and American pianist Craig Taborn at the 2015 Slovenia Jazz Festival is both brooding and frantic, yet remains a transcendent affair. The opening scrapes on the piano’s inner workings on “The Eyes Moving. Slowly,” quickly give way to some coarse and droning lines by Gustafsson which more closely resemble an oscillator on an old synthesizer than a reed instrument. Taborn dives into the fray and the two riff on one another, strangling the chords and notes as they escape from their respective instruments. Around the 3:30 mark, Taborn’s piano playing begins to take off; shortly thereafter, the piano goes into full flight with Debussy-esque lines, tethered to earth only by Gustafsson’s pleading, vibrato-laden bursts. The duo dip on the Geiger counter as Gustafsson’s unrelenting playing, well, relents. Tabor’s melodies flirt with the upper-reaches of the stratosphere, before Icarus’ wings burn up in the sun’s shafts of light and the tattered, windblown remnants coast back down to Terra Firma and humbly rake across the stage, back in the Slovene capital. Cecil Taylor would be triple e eee-lated at what happens next: the duo emulate a mouse running through a maze, seeking some savory fromage on the other side, with their instruments in a wholly Taylor-esque manner. Brusque and feverish as it may be, one still gets the impression that humor and joy underpin the duo’s gritty machinations. The second piece, “The Ears Facing the Fantasies. Again.” is far less interesting than the opener. The number begins with tentative piano stabs before Gustafsson sputters and squeaks to life, yelping out in between. Jarring at first, one cannot help but admire the Swede’s rhythmic scrupulousness. Gustafsson’s rough and tumble playing is nothing less than what one acquainted with his work would expect; his boorish tone and tempestuous approach perhaps make him an obvious heir to Peter Brötzmann, but alongside Taborn’s show stealing chops, Gustafasson’s playing feels a bit tedious. In all, the duo’s playing makes for an interesting —though certainly not quintessential— listen.